Young Upstarts

All about entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, ideas, innovation, and small business.

5 Things About Entrepreneurship That School Didn’t Teach You

by Mike Sims, owner of ThinkLions

Earning a degree in business is a major accomplishment. During your time as a student, you were introduced to a million different business terms and definitions. As a business school graduate, you’ve already learned about accounting, marketing, management, and so much more. The only thing left to do is to start a business and become an instant success, right?

Unfortunately, graduating business school (even with high honors) doesn’t automatically equate to entrepreneurial success. There are many ultra-successful CEOs that never stepped foot into a business school or university. Conversely, there are many failed entrepreneurs that graduated from some of the most prestigious business colleges in the world. While formal education may offer some advantages to your entrepreneurial future, it is not the sole factor in whether you will succeed or fail as a business owner.

There are some things that business schools can’t teach you. These things, you can only learn thru personal experience or the experiences of someone else. The lessons you learned at school were definitely important, but it’s the “school of the hard knock” lessons that typically separate the weak from the strong and the good from the great.

Before you jump into entrepreneurship, here are five important lessons you probably didn’t learn in the classroom.

1. You’ll Never Have All The Answers.

I’ve got good news and bad news.

Here is the bad news: To be successful as an entrepreneur, you will need to be strong in several areas including management, marketing, human resources, finance, sales, networking, and more. On top of what you’ll need to know as a general entrepreneur, you’ll also need to be an expert in your product or service.

Here is the good news: You don’t have to be strong in all of those areas today.

No matter how much you research your business idea before taking the leap, you will never have all the answers on day one. No matter how many classes you take or how many degrees you hang on the wall – you will never have all the skills you need to be an entrepreneur until you actually are an entrepreneur.

Unless your background is in marketing, you likely won’t achieve the level of marketing expertise you need until you are actually implementing and optimizing a successful plan for your business. Unless your background is in HR, you probably won’t generate expertise in human resources until you have successfully gone through the learning curve of hiring your first employee. The point is, the role of “entrepreneur” is a learn-on-the-job type position. Start with the strengths you do have, and focus on building the others as you go.

If you have an idea, get started – don’t wait until you have all the answers or until the “time is right.” Analysis paralysis is one of the greatest killers of dreams. The more that you focus on what you don’t know, the less confident you will feel about whether you have what it takes to reach your goal.

It isn’t necessary to know how to get to the last step, today. The most important step is the next step. Decide what task is the highest priority for you to move even one step closer to your goal, and execute it. Maybe today, your goal is to register your business. Learn the process of registration, and get it registered. Set new goals each and every day – and learn enough to meet those goals. With this approach, every time you reach a new milestone in your business, you will also reach a new milestone in your learning.

2. Great Ideas Mean Very Little.

Schools value “ideas” heavily. Business school graduates often spend far too long hoping to develop the next world-changing idea instead of focusing on solving the problems that consumers face.

The world is full of great ideas. Everyone has a great idea within them somewhere. Unfortunately, great ideas don’t build themselves and bringing them to fruition takes more effort than most people are willing to put towards it.

No matter how disruptive your idea is, it’s still just an idea. It’s everything else that surrounds the idea that breeds success – the right team, the right product-market fit, and strategic execution, for example. There are hundreds of thousands of great concepts that launched over the last decade, but no longer exist today. On the other hand, there are many average ideas on the market that took off because all of the other pieces were in place.

Seek solutions over disruption. Start your business with a solid idea that solves a real problem, and adapt as you learn more about your market and your customer. The idea you start with will likely pivot and change significantly over its lifetime – so there’s no use in wasting time trying to perfect the idea from the start.

3. Overnight Success Doesn’t Exist.

In the age of instant gratification, it almost seems as though success is achieved “on-demand.” Tech businesses seem to pop up overnight sell for billions shortly after. Every day, we seem to witness another new startup is getting acquired or going public. Don’t let the media fool you; maybe some people are just lucky, but most accomplished entrepreneurs have fought tooth and nail to achieve their success.

It’s a rare situation for an entrepreneur to get it right the first time. Startups that seem to springboard their way to success often have founders and advisors that have years of experience bringing new ideas to market. Other successful startup teams have pivoted their idea so many times that their business barely resembles the original concept. Some startups find a perfect product-market mix early on, while others take several years to develop the product that propels them to success. Every business is different, and the success of one can’t always be compared to the success of another.

Launching a business is a long-term play. The vast majority of businesses don’t make it through the first year, and of those that do, most don’t turn a profit for at least 2-5 years. Refrain from comparing yourself to the entrepreneurs you read about on the front page of the Startup News. Those individuals have gone through battles that you may never hear about. No matter how ‘lucky’ your startup is, you will go through your own set of battles and obstacles that will need to be overcome on your journey to entrepreneurial success.

4. Creativity Is As Important As Knowledge.

In business, creativity doesn’t just stop at concept development. You will frequently face obstacles that you can’t find a simple answer to. The lessons you learned in your textbook won’t always apply to the unique situations you face. Google doesn’t always have the answer, and sometimes you will need to rely on yourself to come up with a feasible solution. Where information lacks, creativity reigns supreme.

Creativity gives an entrepreneur the flexibility they need to adapt at the right times. The concept of creativity doesn’t just apply in an artistic sense. By definition, creativity is “the use of imagination or original ideas.” Every aspect of your business will require imagination; from visualizing your ideal customer to developing your marketing strategy and beyond. Rigid business plans don’t work today. Instead, businesses must have the ability to shift and adapt to the changing needs of its customers.

Education can give you a boost, but it can only get you so far. Creativity, on the other hand, can allow you to bend without breaking and create new solutions where no solution seems to exist.

5. It’s Not Just Who You Know, But Who Knows You.

We are all familiar with the old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Truth is, both are extremely important. What is also important, however, is who knows you. Relationships are key to successful entrepreneurship. The relationships you develop with your team, customers, investors, partners, and others, will be critical to your ability to flourish as an entrepreneur.

You may have a mile-long collection of business cards from extremely important people that can substantially advance your business. Unfortunately, having a large network means absolutely nothing if the people in your network have no idea who you are.

Business school may teach you that networking is important, but it doesn’t teach you how to network. It doesn’t teach you how to identify the individuals that can benefit your business – or how to effectively connect with them once you do. School may teach you how to create a pitch deck, but experience teaches you how to pitch it. School may teach you how to develop a memorable business idea, but it doesn’t teach you how to be memorable.

On your journey to success, you will shake many important hands. Networking properly with key individuals will take passion, drive, bravery and a strong delivery. Take the time to learn how to deliver your pitch confidently and how to make sure that everyone you meet remembers who you are.

Continuous Learning Is Key To Success.

Business school can teach you many things and a solid education cannot be taken for granted. Graduating from a school with a strong business program will give you an advantage as you go forward as an entrepreneur. However, the day of your graduation is only the start of your journey towards learning what you need to know to become an entrepreneurial success. There is no classroom that can teach you how to win – the point where school ends is where the real learning begins!


Mike Sims is an entrepreneur, marketer, and owner of ThinkLions, a startup consultancy that has helped app entrepreneurs raise millions of dollars in seed funding. Leading a team of business plan writers and app developers, he has worked with hundreds of startups over the last several years, assisting them in planning, strategizing and executing the development of their software solutions.


This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.

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